Annandale High School freshman Meilhi Leon was initially uninterested after learning about a study abroad opportunity made possible through a Council on International Educational Exchange program.
The Fairfax County, Virginia, student first heard about the program from her French teacher and, after a little bit of nudging from school staff, decided to apply. The application process is rigorous — requiring six essays, navigating a complex portal and scanning tax forms, among other things.
Leon aspired to travel to France because she was learning the language in class. She became one of 19 Annandale students who will spend several weeks abroad this summer, with airfare the lone large expense. The students won over $75,000 in scholarship funding to pay for the experience.
“Most of our students wouldn’t be able to afford a program like this,” said Laura Wells, who coordinates the school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps students with organization, writing and college or career awareness. “Because of the scholarship opportunities through the Global Partnership Program, that’s why our students are able to go.”
The high school gets special funding because it’s one of about 80 U.S. schools that meets Global Navigator School criteria. Those schools demonstrate a commitment to world language instruction, the school system said, and have staff who create awareness about scholarship opportunities to study abroad.
An anonymous donor to CIEE is funding the scholarships, which are sending the Annandale students to places such as Costa Rica, South Korea, Spain, Mexico and Ghana, among others. They’re participating in different programs, depending on where they’ll be for the three or four weeks.
The typical program cost, Wells said, is about $4,000. Students have most of the tuition funding covered, but do have to pay for their own plane tickets.
Leon will be taking French language classes, while also visiting “a lot of new locations, like the Eiffel Tower, which is what I’m really excited about,” she said.
Leon is going to live with a family, and said she’s going to Paris for about $50.
“She told her mom, ‘I will do this instead of a quinceañera party,’ and that is what is paying for her to go to Paris,” Wells said.
Junior Alvaro Erazo, meanwhile, will be spending a few weeks in Rome. After watching a show based in Rome during the peak of the pandemic, he started using the language app Duolingo to learn Italian on his own.
Students in the Italy language and culture program will be staying in a hotel and attending classes to learn Italian.
“When I saw the opportunity to be able to travel to Italy, I was like, ‘might as well take it,'” he said.
Meredith Hedrick, chairwoman of Annandale’s English for Speakers of Other Languages department, said the programs will open doors for students and help them connect with people from different places.
“By traveling overseas, and doing these language, culture and thematic programs, they’re opening up ideas to how they can use their education in the future to do something good,” Hedrick said. “Most people, once you’ve traveled overseas, you have this bug to go more and more and more.”
The application process for the abroad programs includes several essays varying in length, something Wells said is valuable practice for filling out college applications.
The students could also receive college credit and service hours for participating in the programs.
“To get three college credits when you’re in high school, that’s pretty cool, and to get it on scholarship,” Hedrick said.
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